Mercury Marine knows how to pour. Its Fond du Lac, Wis., campus is home to one of the most advanced aluminum casting facilities in the world, and now it also houses the largest die cast machine in North America. Revealed to the public on April 4, the fully automated BuhlerPrince die casting cell is as big as a two-story garage and can exert 4,500 tons of clamping force on steel dies so large then may weigh more than 100,000 pounds, while pouring up to 200 pounds of aluminum in a single shot.
“This new machine positions us to make castings that no one else in the industry can do,” said Mike Meyer, general manager of Mercury Castings. “With this new machine, Mercury can make larger, lightweight structural components and reduce the overall weight of our engines by producing more efficient castings.”
The $7.5 million center was created by BuhlerPrince in Holland, Mich., and required 18 semi trucks to transport to Wisconsin. It can create a part as big as a V8 engine block. Or a mini van hatchback door. Since 2009 Mercury Marine has invested more than $800 million on R&D and manufacturing expansion in Fond du Lac. The new die cast facility opened in 2013 and also houses a pair of 2,500-ton die cast centers.
Foundry work by reputation is dirty and dangerous, but Mercury’s new shop is clean and bright, with a wall of windows facing south. Robots handle most of the dangerous work in each cell. One robot ladles molten aluminum from an oven and pours it before it’s rammed into the die in a fraction of a second. Another robot is tasked with spraying lubricant inside the die before each pour. A really big fella finishes the job; a new ABB robot with an arm that can reach more than 14 feet and lift 400 pounds hoists the newly cast part from the die and holds it as automated saws remove gates, venting and overflows, work that once was done by men with really large hammers
A big die cast machine can create larger and stronger parts, so a single part can replace three smaller parts that used to be bolted together with gaskets, according to Meyer. The company has two PhD metallurgists on staff, and has patented four proprietary low-copper aluminum alloys. Mercury creates all of its own alloys in house using 100 percent recycled aluminum, according to Meyer. Mercury’s casting capabilities attract outside clients that need to leverage its expertise – we were shown a Polaris ATV engine block and a General Motors transmission case cast by Mercury. Right now about 20 percent of Mercury die cast production is devoted to outside clients, according to Meyer. Expect the next generation of high-power Mercury outboards to come out of this die cast machine as well.